FESTIVAL REPORT: First two nights of 2015 WDR3 Jazzfest in Dortmund

Pablo Held Trio, John Scofield, WDR Jazzfest 2015
Photo Credit: WDR / Lutz Voigtländer

Sebastian reports after two evenings of the WDR3 Jazzfest in Dortmund:

The City of Dortmund has just proudly declared itself to be nothing less than the Jazz Capital of Germany…until Sunday morning. Justifying that bold claim – which probably won’t and can’t be refuted in the days remaining-  is the presence here of the third WDR3 Jazzfest.

After two nights, the half-way mark of this imaginatively programmed festival has now been reached. From the six gigs so far, a set on the second night from the Pablo Held Trio with John Scofield stands out as being quite exceptional. It was also shining example of the continuity of the support which the broadcaster brings to the ecology of the local scene – Held’s trio, which has been together for nine years, and all of whose members have been winners of the WDR Jazz Prize, is emerging as one of the top young bands in Europe.


Stefan Mattner’s BEAM

It was a delight to watch this young group progressively gain in both confidence and enjoyment as the set progressed, after a cautious start. The compositions were characterful, notably some Kenny Wheeler-inspired melodic wordless pieces, in which vocalist Filippa Gojo was very effective in the kind of role in which Norma Winstone has excelled for decades.

Dee Alexander with the Kirk Lightsey Trio

Dee Alexander is a Chicago-based singer with a background in both gospel and jazz singing, and a strong heritage with AACM (more detailed biography here). She had flown across the Atlantic for this one-off appearance. She was presenting material from her new album Songs My Mother Loves.  Alexander has a strong presence, brings passion to everything she does and has an ability to settle down and to be completely at home in a variety of styles. She was performing with one of the greats of Detroit piano school, the vastly experienced and ever-energising Kirk Lightsey.

Kaja Draksler. Photo Credit: WDR / Lutz Voigtländer

Kaja Draksler solo

The main talking point on Wednesday was the third set of the night. The Slovenian-born, Holland-based pianist Kaja Draksler had created quite a buzz at both Jazzahead and of the 12 Points Festival in Dublin last year, and it is not difficult to see why. She produced a solo set ranging from the ethereal and the Satie to one lively piece, James and Jaki,  inspired by James P. Johnson and Jaki Byard.

What struck me was the strength of her inner pulse as a musician, which means that through long arcs of ideas she has the ability to hold the listener’s attention transfixed. In a set starting at 11 30, people’s attention will tend to drift; with Draksler it didn’t. I also spoke to Kirk Lightsey (in a longer interview to appear later). He had heard her set and had been mesmerised by it. He told me: “She’s great, she’s truly clear, with her harmony, her counter-rhythms. She plays the orchestra that is inside the piano.”



The Festival’s first presentation on Thursday was a new song project, Wiresongs, in which Swiss-born singer Sarah Buechi and the Cologne-based composer and saxophonist Niels Klein had been invited to do a one-off collaboration. The title of the project simply alluded the fact that both protagonists knew that once they arrived on stage there would be a lot of wires. Effects pedals, sequencers and tonal distortion were indeed much in evidence, but the two most appealing aspects of  the project were the particular way Sarah Buechi asserted simple melodic hooks and made them stick  – Meant to Last in particular came across as a very strong song indeed –  and the Jimmy Guiffre chalumeau tones of Klein’s Bb clarinet and alto clarinet playing.

Melodic lines and the subject matter of lyrics seemed to proceed with no fear or restriction, which ws a good thing, but there were also excursions into twelve-tone language which required a lot of effort from the performers, and seemed to generate less reward. Among the band members, both guitarist Frank Wigold, who had also composed one of the songs, and bassist Matthias Nowak, who underpinned the many mood transitions very effectively,  left a strong impression

John Scofield with the Pablo Held Trio

You know when you’ve been to a good concert. A moment to treasure was when the audience first broke out into strong and spontaneous applause. John Scofield has a loyal following, and it was his presence which had brough out an older audience of long-term fans. However, their first response was not to Scofield, but rather to the sheer energy level being generated for him by the trio, and by drummer Jonas Burgwinkel in particular. This trio’s longevity as a unit gives them an independence and a mutual trust which is telepathic; their reactions are lightning-quick; they can go anywhere they want.

If they were thrilled to be playing with one of their heroes, Scofield could not have been more emphatic in his praise for them: “One of the great groups. This is why I like to play music.” Imaginary Time flowed like a story well told. In We Camp Out, the sense of groove was infectious. Pablo Held’s Nocturne produced some of the best mutual listening I have ever heard. The final Joni Mitchell Marcie was a gem. As a transatlantic collaboration it could be of similar significance to the Impossible Gentlemen. It is to be hoped that this top-flight collaboration gets the chance to prosper, to generate and to play in new material, make another album, simply to take an exciting story further.

Nguyên Lê

A smart idea to invite the guitarist to create a score to play with the adventurous, dark 1926 Japanese film A Page of Madness (Kurutta ippêji). It is mainly set in a mental hospital, from which a man tries to free his imprisoned wife. The 2007 restoration is 78 minutes long, and with an 11 30 pm start time, and after two sets of music earlier in the evening… it was an effort to keep peak concentration. Nevertheless, Nguyên Lê carried off the task with huge imagination. His responses to the free association and the sudden changes of mood in the film were remarkable. There were delicious koto-like sounds, a phenomenal urgency about one fight scene, and the calm elegaic close was a delight.

WDR has been live -streaming these concerts, and we will provide links as they become available.

Categories: miscellaneous

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